Startup Spotlight: Attentive.ly Puts Social to Work
With its roots in helping nonprofits leverage social media, Attentive.ly helps companies identify and deepen relationships with their top "influencers."
Motherhood is hard for a working woman in any field, but especially so in industries like technology that cannot seem to shake their male-centric cultures. The issue recently heated up with Apple's and Facebook's decisions to offer coverage for female employees who want to freeze their eggs.
So it's not surprising that media coverage of startup Attentive.ly, which sells a social CRM product that helps companies identify its key influencers and deepen relationships with them, often focuses on an executive team packed with youngish women, several of whom are mothers. Six of its 10 core employees are women, including CTO Cindy Mottershead.
Noting that the typical culture of tech companies is not friendly to working mothers – or working fathers, for that matter – Attentively co-founder and CEO Rosalyn Lemieux, said, "It's a real strength for us as a company to being so committed to making that possible and making it work for our employees."
For example, Attentive.ly is headquartered in Washington D.C., but its employees are scattered across the country. "Our CTO is in Carlisle, Massachusetts because that is where her kids go to school. We don't require people to uproot their lives and move to Silicon Valley or wherever the next hipster place is to start a company," Lemieux said.
While there is acknowledgement and effort to make the tech industry more friendly to families, Lemieux said it still has a long way to go. Attentive.ly was short-listed for a stint at a prominent incubator, "but there was no practical way for us to get people to move somewhere else for two or three months" to pursue the opportunity, she said. "A lot of VCs and incubators are catering to a profile of this sort of imaginary Stanford dropout who was too brilliant for school. A lot of awesome companies fit that profile, but not everyone."
Marrying CRM, Social Listening
Attentive.ly is the second company in which Lemieux has worked with co-founder Cheryl Contee. In 2008 they founded Fission Strategy, a digital marketing agency that specializes in helping political groups and non-profits leverage social media. Attentive.ly was founded four years later because they believed agencies and other companies would be interested in the social CRM software developed in-house at Fission Strategy.
As Lemieux explained, Fission customers tended to rely heavily on email as a growth engine and the women "saw an opportunity to bring in social information and integrate it with email campaigns." The Attentive.ly app "brings social CRM and social listening together," she said.
"We want to help you combine the information you already know about a person from your CRM system, like whether they are a season ticketholder for a sports team, with what they are out there talking about at the moment," she said. "You get the realtime and contextual aspect and, because it is tied to data in your CRM, you can narrow the audience. It can be really powerful."
Most social listening tools like Radian6, which was purchased by Salesforce in 2011, allow users to listen for direct mentions of their products or services on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, "but they cannot also determine whether someone is a season ticketholder who may show up for the game tonight ," Lemieux said.
Agencies on Board
Lemieux said the Attentive.ly app has won fans among digital agencies like Burson-Marsteller, which were among its earliest adopters and make up a significant chunk of its base of 135 customers. Agencies took 80 out of 500 spots made available at the product's beta.
"Agencies understand emerging and cutting edge technology and bring it to their customers," she said. "When we approached companies for direct sales, nine times out of 10 they would direct us to their agencies anyway."
Attentive.ly will use some of the $750,000 it just raised in a funding round to build relationships with more agencies, Lemieux said, and also to expand to verticals outside its core markets of publications, nonprofits and universities.
Agencies help companies cut through some of the considerable buyer confusion caused by a proliferation of social CRM startups and acquisitions of some like Radian6, Lemieux said. In addition most large companies already have established relationships with giants like Oracle and Salesforce.
"What is social? What is Big Data? How does it play with the platforms like Oracle and Salesforce that may already be in place? I could go through those platforms and their acquisitions and tell you how we are quite different, but the head of marketing may already have a relationship with Oracle, so it can be tough to get in the door," Lemieux said. "We found the best way for us to initiate those relationships is through partnerships."
From early on, she said, the focus was on ensuring the Attentive.ly app would integrate with popular CRM systems and email service providers like Eloqua, Marketo, Silverpop, Mailchimp, ActiveCampaign and Blackbaud Luminate. Attentive.ly is sold through Oracle's Eloqua AppCloud Marketplace and is rolling out now in the Salesforce AppExchange.
"We are not trying to be the new marketing platform. We are trying to layer nicely on top of what a company is currently using. We want to be the additional layer of data, recommendations and tools that plugs into their existing platform," Lemieux said.
Fast Facts about Attentive.ly
Founders: Rosalyn Lemieux and Cheryl Contee
Funding: $2 million, with investors including Drew Bernard, Serious Change, New Media Ventures, Atlanta Tech Angels
HQ: Washington, D.C.
Customers: About 135, including The Washington Post and Elasticsearch
Product: Social CRM tool that helps companies identify and deepen relationships with key influencers
Ann All is the editor of Enterprise Apps Today and eSecurity Planet. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade, writing about everything from business intelligence to virtualization.